Monday, June 29, 2009

A pub session, fish watching, a welcome and hot weather

Mooring in march it wasn't long before we were joined by John and irene on their super little boat Rosie Piper. So nice to meet up with firends in this way. After a good Indian meal that evening we retired to the Ship Inn directly above the moorings where we were joined by other friends met on the way. it turns out we could all ply a bit of music and so with the blessing of the landlord a session ensued. Dulcimer, bagpipes, guitar, mandola, flute and voices. even the landlord sang a song or two. We left the pub at a quarter past midnight!

Our second day across the middle levels stayed hot and dry until we reached Peterborough. There isn't anything to see except the flood banks so we amused ourselves by looking down into the crystal clear water and spotting fish.

We had to wait a day in Peterborough for Peter to join us by train so that night we moored up by the boathouse pub next to the rowing lake. A good spot for a one nighter. The river banks in central town were very weedy and there were a few drunks hanging about so we were much better of out of town.

Peter arrived by train on Saturday and we took up an invitation to stay that night at Peterborough Yatch Club (not a yacht in sight!). A nice guy called Pete who we met in Ely asured us of a welcome and even saved a prime spot for us and arranged a welcoming party! What hospitality. Free secure mooring, lots of friendly people, very cheap real ale, and next morning, cheap diesel. Very highly recommended. Peering over the side of the boat doing more fish watching we spend some time looking at an eel, lazily wandering through the cabbage lillies. They look very graceful sen from above this way.

Sunday saw us head up the Nene at last in hot sunshine and again very clear water so more fish watching, spotting some real biggies.

We settled for the night at the pretty moorings at Fotheringhay where I failed again to get an internet connection even though I climbed with the laptop right upo to the top of the cstle mound - presumably within feet of where poor Mary Queen of Scots had her head chopped off.

Now its Monday lunchtime and we've walked up from Ashton lock to the Chequered Skipper Inn which has a free wifi connection so I can catch up. To celebrate, here are a few pictures from the ever growing backlog.
THE lowest bridge

The main waterway through the middle levels!!
More rural idyll on the Nene
One of the very few kingfishers we have seen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Outwell Upwell and March

You would think that the main navigation link between the major rivers Ouse and Nene would be a grand affair but it certainly isn't. Passing through the conjoined villages of Outwell and Upwell the waterway is more like a village stream. very pretty actually, but very shallow, very narrow and if you thought yesterday's picture of a low bridge was impressive, today we went under one much lower!!

We had to dismantle the lid ends of the roofbox and empty out half the contents, as well as the usual chimney removal,then we got under with half an inch to spare.

The nice old feller at Marmont Priory lock said that extra water had been pumped into the system to compensate for someone drawing off too much. "We used to do it from here" he said, "and we could get it right, but now some bloke miles away presses a button somwhere to start the pumps and then forgets to turn em off again so the river gets too high".

Now we are moored in March next to Rosie piper, a lovely little boat belonging to friends John and Irene. Photos hopefully with next posting.

Tomorrow we complete our trip across the middle levels and have to plod 15 miles in a deep and mostly straight ditch. We are booked to go out of the system at 3pm.

Heavy thundery showers are forecast. Deep joy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A white knuckle ride

Anyone who has crossed the tidal Ouse from Denver to Salters Lode will tell you it is not for the faint hearted. We entered the lock at Denver, rose up on the tide and then had to wait ages for the right moment to be released to dash up to Salters. Eventually the lockkeeper shouted "Go" and Herbie nervously crept out onto the tide way. Actually it felt disappointingly benign at this stage, but it made up for it later on.
Soon we saw a narrowboat emerging from the other end.
Just as well we did because the lock entrance is almost impossible to see until it is too late. Can you see the entrance he is emerging from? No, neither could we, but we had to get into it in one shot.

At last we glimpse the edge of it. When should we turn?

There was a stiffish breeze blowing against us so I thought I'd turn late to avoid being blown back short of the proper entrance. However, what I had failed to recognise was that the tide was pulling the boat stronger than the wind and in the opposite direction.

Now I was at right angles to a very narrow entrance and being rapidly swept past it. Nothing for it but to pile on the revs and go for it. We got in fine but it was far closer to disaster than it looked.

Looking backwards, you can see the grand entrance we had to aim for whilst being sewpt down the tide.
Anyway, now we were safely on the middle levels. Safe provided that you can get under the low bridges!

Tomorrow we hit March to rendezvous with Rosie Piper and her crew Irene and John. Herbie and Rosie have never met but I suspect they will get on fine.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We're still going

Despite the lack of posts recently, we're still going. Mobile broadband connection in the fens is clearly not top of the provider's priority list. At the moment I'm sitting atop the flood defence dyke in order to get any signal at all. I fear I will not be able to provide you with photographic evidence of anything today.

We rested three days in Ely while Kath went home on babysitting duties and I had some interesting conversations with cruiser owners which I'll save for another day. Meanwhile:

The wonderful Wissey wends its winding way to Wittington via Wissington. Flowing through fabulous fens featuring the flowers of forgetmenots and dancing damselflies. - Oh I can't keep up the awful aliteration, so back to proper English.

On the advice on Sue of No Problem blog we decided to take in the river Wissey, the last tributary to joing the Ouse before it goes tidal. What a lovely little river. We did it from end to navigable end in three hours but it was so pretty and so varied. The water is extremely clear but stained the colour of tea (no milk) by the peaty fen soil. Talking of milk and tea, I should tell you about the sugar. At Wissington, in the middle of nowhere is a gigantic sugar processing factory right alongside the little river. It's huge. Vast silos, conveyor belts and pipes everywhere. I bet they make hundreds of tons a day in season. This time of year of course the plant lies idle, being maintaind and readid for the sugar beet crop in the autumn.

East of the plant the tiny river suddenly becomes 200 yards wide as it flows through a big lake, and even after that it is pretty wide. I always expect rivers to get narrower as you go upstream but in the fens no such rules hold true. Often in the lower reaches the watercourse is squeezed in between high flood banks and so becomes narrower and faster.

Anyway we went up and down the Wissey in a day and enjoyed it all. Now we're at the mighty Denver sluice complex ready to take the short tidal trip across to the middle levels tomorrow.

We took a walk around the complex this evening and I must say it is er, complex! Most of East Anglia depends on it for flood control and tidal defences. The Ouse navigation which we have been boating on finishes here and through the gates it joins the New Bedford river (otherwise known as the hundred foot drain and flows out towards the Wash. Also starting here is the relief channel which in times of flood can get rid of a whole load more water by sending it to the sea near Wisbech. Then there is the flood relief cut off channel which starts back inland a way and can collect flood water from various Ouse tributaries and either tip it into the relief channel or flow backwards (!!) and take it to reservoirs in Essex. There are mighty sluice gates all over the place here.

So finishes our cruise on the Ouse. A very unusual river and one we'd like to come back to one day. Still lots more to do before we get home though. I estimate another three weeks cruising.

I'll try to post photos when we get a better connection. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wicked Wicken

Were up at Wicken Fen today. You get here along a narrow cut off the tiny Reach Lode. I guess a lot of boats baulk at the idea of going up such a narrow waterway, but in fact its a sight easier than the Wendover Arm of the GU and a lot less weedy than the good old Slough Arm.

Wicken is a National nature reserve run by the National Trust and as you might expect it is bursting with wildlife. The bloke at the visitor centre told us that in one small area near the buildings there are over 800 species of creature! That includes all sorts of insects of course.

They even have nettles here that don't sting. Not your common deadnettle, but a spcial fen nettl looking very like a stinger.

The wild flowers and birds were what we enjoyed. Taking photos of birds etc is never easy but here are my feeble attempts at some things we saw today.
A marsh harrier

A common tern (seen everywhere of course and not just here, but I liked this pose)

A wasps nests in a birdwatching hide.

And photo of the day, a wren at her nest in another hide

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A result!

Here we are in Cambridge, which means that we've achieved one of our main objectives in this trip - that of visiting both of our sons by water, Richard in Huntingdon and Peter in Cambridge. Instead of the normal double visit by road, getting back home the same day, this has taken over thirty days cruising but it's been great so far.

The river Cam is rather nicer, and wider, than I expected. The countryside has more to see than the Ouse, although still quite fen dominated. There are a few nice EA and GOBA moorings too. Yesterday we saw what was probably a hen harrier over the marshes, a very impressive bird but too agile for me to catch on camera I'm afraid.

Mooring in Cambridge is not so good. Few places considering it is a tourist town. We just managed to squeeze in outside the Fort St George pub on Midsummer Common. Fortunate really because we chose to eat and drink there with Paeter last night and recognised Amy from Nb Lucky Duck and were also introduced to Emma and James from nb Kestrel, both on our list of favourite bloggers. From them we picked up some good tips about visiting Wicken Fen which we plan to do next. I see Lucky Duck features a picture of Herbie on their blog today. We're honoured!

Kestrel has been travelling a similar route to us recently although their next move is one we hadn't contemplated. Instead of coming up the Old West River on their way to Denver, they'll be taking the 20 mile shortcut on the tidal New Bedford River. Straight as a die, but very rarely navigated I thought. It'll be interesting to follow their exploits.

Coming through Baits Bite lock yesterday was .... er ....interesting.

It's all very well having these fully electric locks but when the fail safe mechanism (that prevents the top gate opening until the bottom gates and slackers are closed) fails, no-one is going anywhere. We tried umpteen times and so did the Cam conservancy staff without avail. In the end they deployed the manual over ride and we were through.

The last thing to tell you is in praise of the Met Office. Yesterday for Cambridge they predicted a fine day until four o'clock when there would be a heavy shower. Well you could have set your watch by it. At precisely four, just as we were coming into the built up part of Cambridge the heavens opened and the thunder boomed. Kath scuttled below at my insistence while I stood at the tiller, wet but reasonably confident of not being struck by lightning!

A result!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Who needs Kate Humble?

While the nation sits glued to Springwatch on the Beeb, we have been having our own wildlife spectacular here on the fen rivers.

Last night, moored in a quiet spot above Earith we had our barbecue on the river bank and watched kingfishers, a barn owl patrolling, the usual herons etc. Then as the light dwindled, there was a swirl in the water and, not six feet from the boat, a seal surfaced and gazed at us for a minute before sinking beneath the surface and swimming off.

Today, up the Old West River we have seen two more barn owls, numerous oystercatchers, more herons than you can shake a stick at, and paraphrasing the immortal words of Frank Sinatra, Egrets, I've seen a few.

The Old West River, which stretches from the tidal stretch of the Ouse at Earith to the junction of the Cam is narrow, weedy and not all that inspiring. Its remoteness is all very well but there is nothing much to see because of the dykes flanking the river. Each mile seems a slog. But we've done it now, and the weather has been lovely. Tomorrow we go onto the Cam and we expect showers.

Friday, June 12, 2009

No panic, an inflatable sheep, two nice meals and a near disaster

Despite the rain we survived Roxton Lock. The rain the day before that is. The rain that threatend to increase the river levels and the current. The current that scared me because we have no brakes and Roxton weir would drag us away from the landing stage and we'd all die.

Well it didn't and we all had a jolly day.
The mottley crew. Paula, Roy, me, Kath and DavidRoxton weir did pull at us, but for once I managed to display some skill at the tiller and throttle and kept us safe.
Roy appeared to know the river like the back of his hand so we were able to identify all sorts of bits and pieces that the guide book knew nothing of.

The rain had gone and the sun shone, except when we moored at the Anchor at Tempsford and went inside for a sandwich. It rained hard then - aren't we lucky. The pub was huge and gloomy - a good set for an Agatha Christie murder but the sandwiches were fine. The main attraction though was the dispensing machine in the men's toilets which amongst its exciting wares offered and inflatable sheep for a fiver! Strangely, none of us were tempted.

We emerged from the pub - minus sheep, and the rain stopped. The dear old sun shone all the way to Eaton Socon where Roy and Paula departed for the bus.

David stayed on for another day and treated us to our evening meal at the Rivermill at Eaton Socon. The decor there is gloomy like the Anchor although they have a good range of beers at good prices. We didn't have very high hopes of the food, but we were unduly pessimistic because it was very good indeed. Recommended. Especially the home made beefburgers that Kath had, Big, thick, meaty, herby, covered in strong mature melted chddar and good quality bacon.

Today was a special day too. We tootled down through the painfully slow St Neots lock to pause at the GOBA moorings at the Paxton pits nature reserve where we were met by Julie (Herbie's portraitist). After remembering to take her photo alongside her subject,
we went back to her house for a lovely lunch in her garden. We all had a chinwag, shared scurrilous stories about Rick (who is Julie's brother) and the women got a wee bit tipsy, so when we left Julie to resumed our cruise, David and I crewed for the afternoon.

Then at Brampton lock we had our scariest moment in a long time. Kath was nonchalantly minding the boat as David and I worked the lock. As the boat dropped down with the falling water level, the edge of Herbie's baseplate got stuck on those wretched chains that locks here all have draped along thier walls . Almost too late Kath, who was minding the boat shouted that the boat was tipping over sideways. Inside, teapots were crashing to the floor, pot plants were spilling their contents and it looked for a moment as though the boat was going to roll over. Frantically we tried to close the bottom paddles but the mechanism is so slow that the boat was tipping more and more and was at a truly alarming angle. I dashed up to the other end to raise the Guillotine to let more water in and as I got there, there was a huge crashing sound as Herbie freed herself from the chains and righted. Phew. If you think there should be a photo of that, sorry to disappoint but I wasn't exactly thinking of cameras at the time!

Now we're back at Godmanchester. David has gone home on the bus and it all seems a bit quiet.

More adventures to follow I am sure.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Herbie repainted digitally

I got a comment from Colin Bailey of linking me to a brilliant picture of Herbie that he has created using software skills that I do not possess! I won't reproduce it here because it's his pic, (unless you want me to Colin)but please visit his site to see his pictures.

Thanks very much Colin. When we eventually get home may well order a canvas print.

Are we scared? Just a tiny bit.

Bedford is as far from home, by water, as we will get on this trip. Strangely, by road it would be nearer home than at least half of the other places we have passed through.

The last stretch from Eaton Socon to Bedford sees a real change in the river. It gets bendier, eventually narrower and disturbingly faster. The exit from Roxton lock requires a good wiggle of the tiller to push out of the lock cut and then turn sharply up river to avoid being swept onto the weir. No problem really, but I am not looking forward to it on the way back. We'll have to stop on a very short landing stage with a strong current pushing us forward, and Herbie has useless brakes!

We've got some narrow bridge holes to shoot through too, like this one at Great Barford
Another stretch below Castle Mill lock is bendy and very shallow and again the current gets strong in order to shift the water through, then the lock itself is so deep that I had vertigo standing at the top and looking down to receive the rope from Kath. It has this unique(to me) paddle gear positioned half way along the lock with one gubbins for filling the lock and a similar one for emptying.

At Cardington lock we had two interesting encounters. Firstly with a group of firemen practicing removing corpses from the lock! It seems kids open the bottom gate paddles, jump in the lock and dive through the paddle hole. The force of the water must be huge, and if the paddles aren't properly open the kid gets stuck with fatal consequences. Apparently its happened a few times.

The other encounter was with a mink with a sizeable perch in its mouth. It ran all along the lockside as we were about to leave and then dissapeared into the rushes.

We've been here at Priory marina in Bedford since yesterday afternoon, getting the batteries fully charged, using the launderette, etc. Being GOBA members we get a bargain - first night free, second night half price (£5.50). So a £17 membership saved us £22.

Since we got here we've had a lot of rain and I'm hoping the river wont be running too much faster when we go back downstream tomorrow. We'll have extra crew to help. Friends David, Roy and Paula, all familiar with this part of the Ouse, will be reporting for duty at 9.30 am.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Herbie's portraitist pays a visit

If you like solitude, the Great Ouse could be for you. I think we passed only one boat moving today as we moved from Godmanchester to Eaton Socon, just south of St Neots. No dog walkers or joggers along the river banks, just trees, reeds and meadows interspersed with locks at the sites of old mills. The mill pools are very pretty but the locks are v-e-r-y s--l--o--w to operate. It took 40 minutes to get through St Neots lock.

At lunchtime we we joined for a cuppa by Rick's sister Julie who a couple of years ago created for us a much loved water colour painting of Herbie which now hangs on our wall at home.
We were passing not far from her home so she came out to see the boat she had painted but never seen! Her painting was done from a photo.

Here we are now, moored on a shaky pontoon sticking out into the weirpool at Eaton Socon. I hope we don't get washed away in the night if the EA decides to open up more sluices.

Kath discoverd how wobbly the pontoon was when she was despatched ashore to catch the mooring rope. She ended up crawling along the pontoon on her hands and knees. I tried not to laugh but it was a joy to behold.

Great Godmanchester

Herbie award winning blog commenter Vally P says she hadn't heard of Godmanchester. I don't suppose all that many people have, but its a real gem. Just half a mile from Huntingdon, it easily outshines its larger and more famous neighbour.

For a start it has very good boat moorings, close to the heart of the village. But much more important it is stuffed superbly preserved houses dating from the 16th century onwards. This is no chocolate box village preserved in aspic, the old houses sit naturally alongside newer ones. There are virtually no antique or touristy shops.

It is a real place, and I guess was very important in tudor times and must have continued to prosper long afterwards judging by the dutch style merchant houses dotted about. Come to think of it I would imagine it isn't cheap to live there now.

Across the lock lies Portholme meadow, reputed to be the largest water meadow in England and I can well believe it.
The 257 acres of hay grass and wild flowers become flooded most winters. We're not experts on wild flowers but with the aid of a book we identified a few, notably greater dandelion (very big) and yellow rattle.

Go there if you can and allow half a day to explore.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Out again

Kath is not back until tomorrow, but today I decided it was time to move on out of Hartford marina and head for the bright lights of Huntingdon to await her arrival. Richard came along for the ride and to help as we backed out of our narrow slot in the marina, trying not to disturb the coot's nest (with four eggs) on the transom of the nearby boat.

After filling up with diesel we steered our zig zag way through the winding deep water channel of this huge marina and back on to the Ouse.
Richard steered us all the way and gave me a running commentary on his home ground as we passed the big houses with their quaint boat houses on the river, which is meandering and lush round here.
Sadly Huntingdon was not as welcoming as I had hoped. The limited number of public moorings were full, so we pressed on through the ancient bridge and on to Godmanchester lock. In the cut above the lock we found excellent moorings, so ya booh to Huntingdon, it's nicer here.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Painting trials and tribulations while we break from cruising.

When it comes to difficult situations for boat painting, what I have just been doing takes the biscuit.

Since Monday we've been at Hartford marina near Huntingdon, moored up against Richard's boat Bankside. Kath has gone home for baby sitting duties and I'm passing the time by practising boat painting skills using Bankside as a guinea pig.

We decided to have a go at the cabing sides, because the pigment in the red paint has washed out leaving it very streaky.
I'm told that red is particularly prone to this because they're not allowed to put enough red pigment in because it is toxic.

Anyway after much washing and scrubbing and attending to a few rust spots we chose some paint in a sort of deep claret colour. Bankside is moored on a short pontoon, so after reaching the ned of the pontoon I was forced to complete painting the side by squatting on the gunwales while hanging on to the handrail with one and and painting with the other. Now I ache all over.

The first coat wasn't too bad, but it wasn't opaque enough to cover so I started a second one today. A few minutes into the job and the local willow trees decided to shed a load of their fluffy seeds, a bit like dandelion seeds. Not wanting a furry boat I stopped and waited a few hours. All seemed clear so aching even more now, I resumed the painting and finished the side in less than an hour. That's when the plague of insects arrived.

So Bankside has one nice shiny side with the bodies of a considerable number of insects sticking to it ike fly paper. We'll just have to get them off when the paint has dried. Anyway that side of the boat now looks a lot better. From a distance.

I fear the other side may have to wait until my next visit.

Internet connectivity has been nearly non existent but I seem to be able to get a couple of pictures up today (thanks largely to Simon's suggestion of reducing the number of pixels) so here are a couple more.

First a poor shot of the Earith seal which we saw again on Monday morning. I would have got a good picture had the camera not been deep inside the boat when it first appeared.

Then a typical shot of the old West River which is a narrow section of the use navigation below the tidal lock at Hermitage and going down as far as the mouth of the river Cam.

And lastly the bridge at St Ives.
We mistakenly moored in some nice public moorings round the back of an island after the bridge. I say mistakenly because we didn't realise we'd have to back out about 100 yards through the narrow entrance with other boats moored up and a cross wind! Anyway we did it unscathed.